John Masefield was an English poet and writer born in 1878 in the Herefordshire market-town of Ledbury. The poet's most notable achievement was in 1930 when appointed by King George V as the Poet Laureate and in doing so Masefield overtook his contemporary, Rudyard Kipling, to the position. The Poet Laureate was a position Masefield held for 37 years until his death in 1967. The only person to hold this position longer than him was Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Masefield first took to the sea at the age of 13 on board HMS Conway, the naval training ship. From here an addiction to maritime life and a love for the ocean began. He then travelled the seas as a teenager on numerous vessels before returning to England in 1897.
By 1902, after his long days and years at sea with nothing but books and his pen, Masefield was an accomplished poet and had writings regularly published in periodicals across the U.K. It was in this year, at the age of 24, that his first collection of works, Saltwater Ballads, was published and featured his revered ode to his former life, Sea-Fever.
It is a poem that confronts the unromantic reality of grey days and the lonely maritime life yet manages to fill the reader with a nostalgia and wanderlust to be out in the elements, sea-soaked, salted and smiling.
It is no surprise that the ode remains to this day one of Britain's best-loved poems.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Here is a reading of the poem by three artists taking part in the exhibition and auction: David Cass, Ella Carty and Chris Tuff (the photographer of the lead image on this page which is Lot 27 in the auction). The images shown are all artworks in our Sea-Fever tribute and will be sold on 13 September at 7.00 pm.
For more information on the exhibition and auction, head to the Sea-Fever auction page here.